'My civil partnership was the happiest day of my life'

First MP to celebrate gay marriage talks about his hopes and fears
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Indy Politics

Ben Bradshaw, the first MP to take advantage of new civil partnership rights, has accused the Church of England of sanctioning homophobic "hatred" by not recognising same-sex partnerships.

The environment minister took his vows with long-term partner Neal Dalgleish in a ceremony in Wales last Saturday which he described as "the happiest day of my life".

However, Mr Bradshaw, who is a Christian, has branded the church's discriminatory attitude towards gay people who want their unions blessed in the eyes of God as "ludicrous and unworkable".

Speaking on BBC radio yesterday ahead of the annual Gay Pride march in London, he said that the church's refusal to recognise everyone as equal endorsed the hatred that led to murders such as that of the gay barman Jody Dobrowski, who was beaten to death last year.

"Homophobia is still present and dangerous in Britain. The main religions including the Church of England, of which I'm a member, continue, I'm afraid, to sanction this hatred by failing to stand up for the truth that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God."

Legal reforms allowing gay and lesbian couples to register their unions as civil partnerships were introduced in Britain last December. They give gay couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals who marry in church, and include the option of a civil ceremony where rings are exchanged and commitments are read out.

Although gay couples now share the same legal rights as heterosexuals, their unions are not recognised by the church and they are denied a religious blessing by a serving priest.

Mr Bradshaw said that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, faces a "daunting task" if he is to hold the Anglican church together. The church is divided in its attitudes towards homosexual relationships.

"The priest who blessed us was breaking the rules. Those rules allow clergy to be prayerful with and about same-sex couples but they expressly forbid the blessing of civil partnerships," he said.

"This is ludicrous and unworkable. And it's being routinely ignored by Anglican and Roman Catholic priests, many of whom themselves are gay and without whose ministry many parishes would collapse.

"They can't discipline or sack our priest who did our blessing because he is retired. But had he still been working he could have lost his job and his home."

More than a thousand people have registered for civil partnerships since last year and Mr Bradshaw, who has been with his partner for 11 years, said that few pieces of legislation have "spread so much happiness".

But he said the Church of England was in danger of being "left on the wrong side of history" in its refusal to recognise gay people as equal.

He added: "If my oldest Italian friend, a devout Christian, who came to our civil partnership with her husband and children, could say in tears after the ceremony that she found it beautiful and that nothing in it had offended her Italian Catholic consciousness, then I fear the church is in danger of being left on the wrong side of history."

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